By Sherry Harlass
ChurchBuzz Project Manager
This summer, we had the opportunity to visit our daughter’s church in Grapevine, Texas. This gathering of believers have big hearts, both in conjunction with worship as well as throughout the week in their community. They seem to do many small things very well, which add up to impacting people with the love of Jesus, including Sunday morning guests.
There were several interesting things the members did this Sunday (1) because of their location, (2) because the pastor was on vacation, (3) because I was on crutches, (4) because the guest preacher was excellent, (5) because this is a small congregation (there seemed to be around 50 the day we attended, but I couldn’t count all of the kids to get an accurate number!) and (6) because they are a very interactive church — even during the sermon.
We saw no church signs, but had the address and name of business, Lifesong Studio, where The Vine currently gathers for worship.
When we arrived, we saw 2 separate entrances on the building (see photo) with different names posted above them: LifeStage Theatre and Lifesong Studio. While driving up to park we weren’t sure which door to enter. My husband was hoping for a close parking spot to the door as I was on crutches from a recent knee operation. We guessed (correctly), LifeStage Theatre (made sense that there would be seating in a theater), but it also helped that as we pulled up, two members opened the double doors and were welcoming us before we exited the car.
Apparently, because the regular pastor was on vacation, as well as other members (this was July 4th weekend), the outside signage did not make it to church this Sunday. However, you can see in pictures taken a couple weeks later that usually there are signs on the doors, in the parking area and out by the street that clearly have the church’s name and logo indicating where to come.
Just inside the entrance on the left, the church is blessed that the regular occupant has a wall with a floor-to-ceiling display of words, including “Grace,” “Love” “Believe” and “Compassion.” I even like that the word “FUN” is included! The business offers classes and performances in dance, art, music and theatre with a mission of “shaping hearts through the arts.” This also makes it a positive place for The Vine to meet on Sundays.
There were a couple of tables in the entrance area. One was specifically for the coffee drinkers – pick your flavor. Another had snacks, along with a basket that was obviously for payment or donations. We did not indulge, so I don’t know if visitors are expected to pay. If not, it would be good to include a sign indicating such or the basket needs to not be so front and center.
This second table also had a station for families to sign their children in for security reasons. Labels are printed that match children with guardians for reconnecting. There were also doors to restrooms in this foyer.
While there is no one standing at the tables in the photos, on the Sunday we attended there was a woman standing behind the table on the right who welcomed us. Everyone at this church seems to wear smiles and say “Hello” and “Welcome” and “We’re glad you are here today.” Then they start asking you questions, from “How are you doing?” and “What brings you to The Vine today?” to “Where in the Metroplex do you call home?” and other follow-up questions to the answers.
The worship space is the next room which has a performance area with a dark gray concrete floor and theater seating with five or six riser-style rows which seat around 150. The Praise Band was set up on the left with the altar in the center. The entire white wall inside the curtains served as a large display screen.
Being on crutches (and not too coordinated with them either), I made my way in and immediately found seats on the second row for my family. We were directly in front of the Praise Band, for which my daughter is the percussionist. There were people coming and going and talking throughout both rooms, and kids were “everywhere.” As soon as we sat down, a guitarist from the Praise Band came over and shook our hands and welcomed us; others stopped by and introduced themselves. In fact, there were so many people who came over and spoke to us that it was almost overwhelming!
Because the regular pastor was out of town, the service started when the praise band leader, the guitarist Steven Tenpenny, stood up, welcomed everyone including guests, introduced himself, explained the absence of the regular pastor, and briefly mentioned the preacher for the day. I think that if there is a reason the service will not be “normal,” (like a guest pastor) that information should be included in the opening welcome. People – members and visitors – will be prepared and understanding to whatever happens.
By the time we started singing, it was obvious that all who had come for worship were there to learn and grow and praise God! The energy was amazing.
Announcements & Facebook Check-in
A short way into the service, Rachel Fruge’, who I later learned is the youth and ministry assistant, came forward and handled the actual announcements. She, too, gave her name and welcomed everyone. I found it very interesting that the next thing she did was invite everyone to pull out their cell phones and “check in” on Facebook. She then explained several things that were obviously directed at first-time visitors, including that they do not pass collection plates during the service. Instead, members support the church as they are able through online giving. Wow. She also explained the missional focus of the church and how they have Huddle Groups, which are small groups that meet throughout the week to further study God’s word, to serve in the community, and to reach unbelievers. I’m pretty sure she also talked about various summer activities they had planned.
After the announcements, the children were invited to go to another part of the building with the children’s minister to spend time for lessons, crafts and other activities. Boy, there were a lot of children!
Apparently, the children are in the service at the beginning and end, but leave during the sermon. My daughter tells me this allows the pastor to talk about mature subjects without little ears.
After the children left, Rachel Fruge’ also introduced the guest preacher, the organization he works with, and the various community programs with which it is involved.
Rev. Oscar Benavides is the executive director of LINC North Texas. He began by telling a joke in a very serious tone that I think initially “scared” many attendees because they weren’t sure if it was a joke or he was serious. However, the mood quickly changed from stone silence to chuckling as he engaged the people through additional personal storytelling and humor. He said he had been told that The Vine was a very interactive group during the message. It wasn’t long before everyone – members and guests – were drawn into who he was as a fellow Christian, what he did, and how we are all God’s harvesters. This included replying out loud to questions he asked about real-life examples as to why people don’t follow Jesus.
His message was based on Luke 10:1-11 and 16-20, also known as “Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-two.” It includes the familiar passage where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (You can see my artistic daughter’s illustrated sermon notes for more highlights about the message.)
The Peace and The Lord’s Table
Following the message there is an extremely long time of passing the peace and getting to know people. Similar to before the service, there were now even more people welcoming us and asking where we were from and what brought us to church this morning (our daughter; “Oh, she’s so wonderful we love her!”), etc. While others moved around the entire space, we stayed in close proximity to our seats due to my lack of mobility.
Also during this long time of fellowship the children reappeared. Then somehow – I really don’t remember how this happened – we segued into communion. How they distributed communion (at least this Sunday we attended) was by gathering in small groups, standing near the altar, and the (homemade) bread and common cup with wine were brought to us. After receiving communion, we returned to our seats until all were served. There was recorded music playing throughout this entire time so the praise band members could participate fully.
We were fortunate to have our daughter to help us navigate the unique way they do communion. While I recall some instruction, I’m not sure I would have really known what to do without the additional guidance. Directions on the display screen would have helped visitors.
Screen & Communication
By the way, there are no bulletins, worship folders, or any other paper handouts. Everything is projected on the screen, and other communication is personal verbal communication or online, including sign-ups, prayers, study groups, etc. And while this church is composed of many young families, there also were “mature” and “elderly” members.
All of the information for the worship service was projected onto the screen wall behind the altar. The Vine subscribes to a service so they can use professional and appropriately themed slides – both stills and video – for titles, songs, responsive readings, and announcements.
More about The Vine
The Vine is appropriately named for the city in which it is located, Grapevine, and Jesus’ words spoken in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
This church has been living its missional vision since it first began meeting for worship in the Grapevine Tinseltown movie theaters in September 2012. In September 2014 they moved services to a private Christian school cafetorium, and in May 2016 moved to Lifesong.
This was definitely a unique contemporary service that was different than others we have attended, but we were made to feel welcomed and comfortable and able to worship God.
There are several takeaways in being a welcoming church that can be learned even from this small congregation that meets in another business’ strip shopping center location:.
- Have good signage, especially when it is not obvious to a first time guest where to go. But also, wave people down in the parking lot and guide them into the worship space.
- Every member can smile, say hello, ask questions of people they don’t know (members or guests).
- Whenever you speak, whether welcoming a visitor individually or addressing the entire congregation, always introduce yourself first.
- Explain how and why you do things – children’s church, offering, welcoming/passing the peace, and communion – so guests aren’t uncomfortably wondering “What am I supposed to do?”
- Have people check in on Facebook during the service. If you can, include a photo in your check-in showing yourselves or people doing something meaningful (children singing, etc).
- If there are no bulletins or other handouts, provide lots of verbal directions and written information on the screen(s).